27/06/2006 - 22:00

Report card unkind to Gallop

27/06/2006 - 22:00


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Although recently departed former premier, Geoff Gallop, will soon be out of sight, for many he’s not yet entirely out of mind.

Report card unkind to Gallop

Although recently departed former premier, Geoff Gallop, will soon be out of sight, for many he’s not yet entirely out of mind.

He remains the subject of many theories – some favourable, others less so – including the claim he left the political stage because of discomfort caused by predecessor, Brian Burke’s, political and lobbying involvement.

“Political sources said the struggle of dealing with Mr Burke’s continuing presence in the halls of power was a factor in the depression that led the factionally unaligned Mr Gallop to resign,” one press report claimed.

In light of this, State Scene has decided to look again at Dr Gallop.

As this column goes to print he’ll be packing for Sydney University’s Graduate School of Government, where he’ll mix in challenging company, not just with obedient factionally directed Labor MPs.

That school’s advisory council is headed by former Queensland premier, Wayne Goss, now chairman of Deloitte Australia.

Another councillor is Max Moore-Wilton, formerly secretary of John Howard’s Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (1996-2002), and now executive chairman and CEO of the privatised Sydney Airport Corporation.

Dr Gallop will undoubtedly speak on various issues to people seeking learned political insights.

And, while preparing seminars, he’ll probably look back on his parliamentary and ministerial years and see some achievements, and perhaps even have some regrets.

Even though mid-2006 is too early for a definitive assessment of the Gallop years, a provisional one isn’t out of order.

When Dr Gallop’s political career is cursorily scanned it certainly seems quite impressive.

He had 20 years as Victoria Park’s MLA, five as premier, and two general election victories.

Does closer inspection confirm that judgement?

Twenty years in a safe Labor seat was hardly an outstanding achievement.

Victoria Park was created in 1930 and held by six members – five of them Laborites – meaning Dr Gallop left a secure Murdoch University job for a very safe seat. Holding it was hardly arduous.

But what of his parliamentary career?

Being elected in 1986 meant he had a taste of Mr Burke’s WA Inc and, more importantly, several years of the political fall-out from that corporatist experiment – royal commission, harrowing media reports and subsequent revelations.

During this period his achievements were certainly above average.

He quickly became chairman of committees (1988-90) and from 1990 to 1993 was minister for education, parliamentary and electoral reform, fuel and energy, assistant treasurer, micro-economic reform and federal affairs.

All this ended in 1993 when Richard Court took the conservatives into power.

That background should certainly have readied someone, especially a Rhodes scholar, for big, even far-reaching, achievements on regaining power.

It’s therefore here that the acid test can be applied to Dr Gallop, with the next inevitable question being: did he live up to his potential, did he fully utilise the experience he so fortunately gained so early in his career?

That’s best considered in two parts.

Firstly, how did his statewide electoral performance – judgement by WA voters – pan out? And secondly, did he leave Western Australians with a better, an improved, political order?

Labor senator Ruth Webber recently claimed Dr Gallop’s 2005 election – the one voters judged him on performance – encounter with Liberal Colin Barnett was a “second convincing election win”.

Unfortunately for her and Dr Gallop, that’s not how leading election analyst Peter Brent assesses it.

Nor, for that matter, does it align with State Scene’s assessment of the final results.

Consider Mr Brent’s conclusions, published after Dr Gallop resigned the premiership due to depression.

“The circumstances of WA Premier Geoff Gallop’s resignation this week guaranteed nice things would be said about him,” he wrote.

“But tales of his electoral prowess can’t go unanswered.

“Political observers of all Australian jurisdictions tend to look at trees rather than the forest, and most will tell you that their premier/chief minister/prime minister is a highly skilled operator, and the opposition is a joke.

“But it is more useful to recognise that current conditions greatly favour incumbents – at least for several terms – and oppositions have trouble getting a look-in.

“In this context, Gallop did poorly.

“Typical assertions were that he was ‘one of the nation’s most popular premiers’ who ‘could well have governed for another seven years’.

“In reality he was closer to least popular, and was unlikely to win again.

“Many were surprised he got back at all. After generally trailing badly in opinion polls, he won with 52 per cent two-party preferred and a modest majority.”

Mr Brent said that Dr Gallop scored just average on Newspoll’s “satisfaction with premier” ratings.

He said the best score over a first term was South Australia’s Mike Rann at 65 per cent.

Queensland’s Peter Beattie and Victoria’s Steve Bracks had 62 per cent, while Dr Gallop reached 54 per cent. Tasmania’s Jim Bacon had 45 per cent and NSW’s Bob Carr had 40 per cent.

“Gallop was below the middle, not ‘one of the most popular’ and after his re-election, he dropped to 49 per cent,” Mr Brent continued.

“WA’s economy rattled along for five years, but Gallop spent most of the time in the poll doldrums.

“His re-election was close, and he probably didn’t have another in him. Others can judge the quality of his premiership but whatever that hard-to-define ‘it’ factor – that electoral gold – is, Geoff Gallop didn’t have it.”

Hash words? No. Objectively honest ones.

Furthermore, the Brent judgement aligns with State Scene’s assessment of May 12 2005 (Power the ultimate cost of canal) that, if 1,042 voters in just four seats hadn’t voted Labor, Colin Barnett would be premier today.

What then of “the quality of his premiership?”

The best that can be said is it was average to mediocre.

Note, State Scene isn’t saying Dr Gallop ran bad or corrupt governments, only very average-to-mediocre ones.

What’s at issue is whether they could have been better. Improvement on what prevailed is one acid test of a premiership.

Remember that Dr Gallop, by 2001, had had considerable experience – minister several times over, assistant treasurer, and had overseen parliamentary and electoral reform.

What did we get?

Treasury’s coffers were filled by ever bigger Canberra GST transfers and a stamp duty bonanza thanks to the property boom. And this despite Dr Gallop saying taxes wouldn’t rise. Neither he nor his ministers could resist slugging people even more across a range of areas.

In other words Dr Gallop was just another profligate Labor premier. He promised a referendum on whether WA should have elected governors, therefore blazing a trail across Australia by at last democratising the outdated vice-regal role.

That never happened. Instead, this pre-election promise was quietly sidelined from Labor’s 2005 election manifesto.

What of electoral reform? Well, WA is to get four more politicians at the 2009 election. Brilliant, Dr Gallop.

What of parliamentary reform? WA only has one thing left to do to become a true democracy, citizen initiated referendums (CIR), which would transform it from a ballotocracy – where voters only get one  say every fours years, after which it’s open slather for politicians – to be like Switzerland.

Such a reform would mean Western Australians could become the final arbiters of legislation if required.

Nothing happened here either.

Let’s hope the increasingly pugnacious Mr Carpenter learns from all this.

After all, like Dr Gallop, he’s had many opportunities bestowed upon him early in his career as MLA for his safe Willagee seat.

Time will tell if he’s learned from them to help ensure WA is better governed and is transformed into a democratic sovereign state, not remain a ‘ballotocracy’, where politicians remain masters of the citizenry rather than the other way around.

If not, someone like Peter Brent will undoubtedly have some poignant things to say after February 2009.


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